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Feature Stories

NEWS | May 30, 2020

Map Making in the Middle East

By Story by Sgt. Sydney Mariette 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade

MIDDLE EAST -- “For a long time growing up I’ve just wanted to be part of something greater,” said Staff Sgt. Nhia Xiong, the geospatial non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade (ECAB), currently deployed to the Middle East. “I have always been drawn towards being part of a team that was doing something to impact other’s lives.”

10 years ago he joined the Minnesota National Guard’s team and has served on three deployments since then. Currently, Xiong is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield. Serving as the NCOIC for the geospatial section means he leads Soldiers in creating strategic maps that provide precise details on terrain features to the units in his area of operations.

“My team’s task is to provide the unit, and any other unit around us, with visual tactical aids to support in the planning of operations,” said Xiong. “We provide maps, anywhere from a basic orientation product to an in depth terrain analysis.”

Visual aids such as these maps are important to any military mission because terrain is a critical factor on the battlefield, whether in the planning or execution stage. Xiong and his team also provide in-depth analyses of terrain features that can further assist leaders with understanding the potential impacts of terrain features that could help or hinder missions.

Compared to his other two desert deployments, Xiong notes that this time around has been decidedly different, due to COVID-19.

“Usually it was those at home that worried about me being over here the whole time, but this time I’m equally worried about those back at home,” Xiong explained. “It’s interesting to see that those at home are going through some of the same daily struggles we do here, such as long lines and fewer facilities to go to.”

COVID-19 has impacted the daily routines of deployed service members with protective measures in place such as gym and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) sites closed, gatherings of over 10 people avoided, and face masks being worn when social distancing is difficult. Despite the challenges on both sides of the world, Xiong says he and his wife, Wendy, try to keep each other positive during calls with plans for when he returns home.

“Since I’ve already done this before, I already know that the little things become so much more enjoyable when you get back from deployment,” said Xiong. “I look forward to colors, to soft green grass, driving on the empty road while everyone is at work, getting to have some alone time, fishing, home-cooked meals, sleeping in, winter snow… The biggest thing I look forward to is starting a life with my wife since we have only been married for one year.” The Xiongs celebrated their first wedding anniversary earlier this May, thousands of miles apart.

After taking a semester off for a well-earned post deployment break, Xiong plans to finish his degrees in Business Management and Geography from the University of Minnesota – Mankato. He hopes to combine his college degrees with his applied National Guard experience to someday start his own geospatial business.